Today we hit the ground running, starting in the Southern Arava in Timna Park. We heard from the Chairman (mayor) of the region which comprises 13% of Israel's land mass but is home to only 4000 people. It has taken 55 years to grow the population to this many and the goal is to double it in the next 20 years.
The park itself is a center of tourism, history and agriculture. Many crops are grown for domestic use and export in the area. The park is rich in history with a 6000 year copper mining history. Mining had stopped in the 1970s but a few years ago a Mexican company reopened the mine and you can see the Mexican and Israeli flags flying together at the entrance.
Tourists at the park can enjoy hiking, camping, a visitor center, etc. We went on a hike and crawled through an old mining hole. It was a lot of fun!
We then went on to Grofit Therapeutic Riding Camp which was started with the help of the women's major gifts group of JNF, the Sapphire society. Grofit has been in existence 16 years and helps 180-200 riders a week who are from 3 1/2 to 80 years old. They suffer from mental, physical and emotional disabilities. There are 24 horses at the camp and a petting zoo. The camp works with patients from all over the area, whether Jewish or not, and they find that the movement of the horse during the ride is what helps the patients the most.
Our next stop was the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. It was founded in 1996 and is an academic research center accredited by Ben Gurion University that has an undergraduate and graduate track. The environment is shared with Israel and Jordan and the philosophy is that nature has no borders. The student body is made up of 1/3 each of Israeli students, 1/3 Jordanian or Palestinian and 1/3 International. At the school they openly discuss their differences and the conflicts in the region and students make friendships that last into the future. There are over 700 alumni from the school and over 1/2 have remained in the Middle East.
We then headed to Kibbutz Yahel which is is 1 hour north of Eilat. We saw the new state of the art visitor center that is being built with the assistance of JNF. Every year millions of people drive by on their way to Eilat and they estimate that 500,000 to 600,000 will stop at this visitor center. The center boasts a lily and fish pond in the center. It will have restaurants, shops, remote control boats, convenience store, coffee shop and 5 star rest rooms.
At the kibbutz they are also building new homes to keep their children from moving from the area as they grow and marry and have children of their own. They will be bigger than the traditional kibbutz home and will be financially independent of the traditional kibbutz. All of this with the help of JNF.
It was still time for Purim to be celebrated at the Kibbutz and we got to watch the children in their costumes before we left their party. They were adorable.
Here, as with most of the JNF sites we visited, the thank yous were many - for the help JNF does to help. It was humbling.